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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, AUG. 16, 2013
BY BOB FRANKEN
When it comes to the high-stakes commotion over massive electronic surveillance of Americans by their government’s spooks, President Barack Obama clearly has bought into the mind-set of the ones who run the country’s national-security apparatus. He may talk about “transparency,” but only because it’s politically necessary to do so. Edward Snowden’s leaks have shown just how far America’s spy agencies have secretly intruded into our privacy. When it comes to steps toward openness, he is clearly taking only grudging ones -- and he even trips over those. Usually, no one ever would accuse Obama of having a tin ear, but there he was, after promising to appoint an “independent group” of “outside experts” in the wake of the Snowden embarrassments “to consider how we can maintain the trust of the people.” Instead of maintaining trust, he ended up looking like he was trying to pull a fast one.
Just a few days later, the White House and Pentagon put out a statement saying that the “outside expert” who would set up this panel and report its findings was none other than National Intelligence Director James Clapper. You don’t get any more inside than Clapper. He’s the one who was caught making entirely false statements to Congress in response to a question from Senate Democrat Ron Wyden about whether the National Security Agency collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper responded, “no,” which is a bold-faced lie, plain and simple. After getting busted, he admitted that the answer was “erroneous,” the “least untruthful” one he could give.
By suggesting he’d be the fox investigating the espionage chicken coop, it became clear immediately that POTUS had laid an egg. There was so much squawking that he backstepped from that plan fast enough to make Mitt Romney proud. “Juuussstttt kidding,” his people said. Director of National Intelligence Clapper wouldn’t be in charge of this operation -- that was just a “misinterpretation” by the media. The panel would not be reporting to him, said the White House. “The DNI’s role is one of facilitation, and the group is not under the direction of or led by the DNI.” All they meant to say is that he’d be handling security clearances. Stuff like that.
Of course Clapper had already put out a statement describing the mandate of the group he wouldn’t be leading. His emphasis was on “unauthorized disclosures” with nothing about invasion of privacy or the Constitution.
It can be tough governing when you have a constitution that imposes limits on running roughshod over the rights of citizens. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is incensed that a federal judge had the temerity to rule that the city’s “Stop, Question and Frisk” policy was unacceptable. He and his police officials didn’t even bother to deny that minorities were singled out by the thousands. Never mind that there are few actual arrests, just the demeaning, very personal searches guided by racial profiling and the whims of NYC police. Bloomberg insisted that it is necessary to stop crime. Again, democracy can really be tough for those chosen to lead who don’t want to bother with civil rights.
Bloomberg isn’t going to be mayor much longer, as evidenced by the ferocious race by candidates looking to replace him. It raises a very troubling prospect. If stop-and-frisk was to continue, and Anthony Weiner was elected ... well, I don’t have to go on, do I?
The serious point is that one of our fundamental assumptions is that we are allowed to live our lives unmolested as long as we’re obeying the law. We can mind our own business, which certainly is not the government’s business. This is not supposed to be a police state, and our spies are not supposed to be peeping toms or sneaky eavesdroppers. Our leaders not only need to accept that, they must embrace it. That includes President Obama.
© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.